People walk through the casino area at the Fontainebleau Las Vegas hotel-casino Tuesday, Dec. 12, 2023, in Las Vegas Source: AP Photo/John Locher

Newest, Bluest Resort on Las Vegas Strip Aims to Bring Miami Beach Vibe to Southern Nevada

Ken Ritter READ TIME: 3 MIN.

A developer's drive to open a Las Vegas Strip resort with a vibe echoing Miami Beach's venerable Fontainebleau reaches reality on Wednesday, with the opening of a 67-story hotel-casino tower that became famous as it sat unfinished for more than a decade.

"Bringing Fontainebleau Las Vegas to life has been an extraordinary journey," said Jeffrey Soffer, who started the project, lost it and reacquired it to finish it. "Opening a resort of this size and scope is a once-in-a-lifetime experience."

The Fontainebleau is the tallest, newest and bluest hotel in southern Nevada's glittery resort corridor. At $3.7 billion, it's second in cost to the $4.3 billion, 66-story Resorts World that opened in June 2021 a short walk down Las Vegas Boulevard.

The name of the 3,644-room Fontainebleau recalls Miami Beach's icon among destination resorts, which Soffer's family acquired in 2005. But the project in the Mojave Desert has its own lore about starts, stops and changing ownership since work began in 2007.

Soffer, the Miami-based chairman of Fontainebleau Development, lost funding during the Great Recession and walked away from the project in 2009 with the building about 70% complete.

Various new owners stepped in, including famous financier Carl Icahn and New York developer Steven Witkoff. The latter announced plans in 2018 to redesign and rename the resort The Drew, but progress stalled again during the pandemic.

Meanwhile, sitting idle, the hulking shell of a building with an incomplete street-front facade was occasionally used by area firefighters for high-rise rescue training. Last July, with work progressing toward opening, a smoky rooftop fire raised alarm but caused little damage.

Soffer and Fontainebleau Development reacquired the project in 2021 and partnered with Koch Real Estate Investments to finance and finish it.

He called completion "the fulfillment of a long-held dream and a testament to the spirit of our brand, which has stood for seven decades."

The resort that awaits guests and gamblers just before midnight Wednesday includes a bowties theme that is an homage to the standard neckwear of Morris Lapidus, architect of the Miami resort that opened in 1954.

"Art, architecture, and design are key components of our Fontainebleau culture and guest experience," Brett Mufson, Fontainebleau Development president, said in a statement ahead of the opening.

Mark Tricano, Fontainebleau Las Vegas president, told state gambling regulators last month that the resort will employ more than 7,000 workers. The property has 1,300 slot machines, 128 gambling tables and more than 36 bars and restaurants – some featuring chefs with Miami roots. Officials said hotel room rates for the opening started around $300 nightly.

The structure is the tallest occupiable building in Nevada and second-tallest in Las Vegas, behind the nearby Strat tower observation deck at 1,149 feet (350 meters).

The Fontainebleau was built on the site of the El Rancho hotel, which dated to 1948 and was imploded in 2000 after Soffer and condominium developer Turnberry Associates bought it. Plans to build a British-themed hotel-casino hotel with Tower of London and Buckingham Palace replicas were shelved after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Fontainebleau is adjacent to the newest section of the Las Vegas Convention Center, a $1 billion expanse that opened in January 2021, and has a down-the-Strip view of the brightly lit Sphere concert and entertainment venue that opened in September.

by Ken Ritter

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